Case Study: Employee Innovation at Ella’s Kitchen 

Ella’s Kitchen: Good in every sense

Ella’s Kitchen was founded in 2006 and produces organic baby and toddler food. Turnover has doubled every year since, with revenues achieving £41 million in 2012. The company has a presence in twelve international markets and opened a second office in the USA in 2011.

The company now employs 57 staff in the UK and 7 in the USA. It promotes a strong and clear brand message to consumers, striving to ensure that everyone lives the brand.

Ella’s Thinking Day – Delivering Innovation

Ella’s Thinking Day gives employees the freedom to take the day off work and do whatever they like. This initiative supports the company’s value to give employees autonomy, mastery and purpose; fundamental aspects of the company’s culture. The idea originated from US author Dan Pink’s ideas on what motivates people at work. CEO Paul Lindley thought it was a demonstration of the engaged culture at Ella’s to allow employees the opportunity to take a day off from focusing on their own roles and instead to think holistically about the company. The next day they are encouraged to report back on what they learned/thought/discovered.  In 2011 employees:

  • Went to kids’ swimming classes
  • Visited nurseries
  • Went shopping and asked parents with children about their shopping habits and feeding their children
  • Visited suppliers to understand their perspective
  • Talked to their own children to understand their attitudes to food

Three employee-led-innovations resulted from the 2011 Thinking Day:

  1. New product ideas – an employee went to watch some children’s activities and spotted a snacking product opportunity as a replacement for the sweet treats parents were relying on.  The idea of healthy but fun post-exercise snacks was born. Result: the line was put to insights groups and evaluated.
  2. New approach to marketing – a non-marketing employee spent the day thinking about a new integrative approach to marketing that combined a number of new and existing channels. Result: the marketing team at Ella’s are developing the idea further and planning how to implement it.
  3. Walking in their Footsteps – many employees visited customers, talked to shoppers or their own children, or visited suppliers. Result: they developed a more holistic/bigger picture of Ella’s Kitchen as a business through these insights and integrated them into their roles.

A Lot of Small Things Adding Up to a Greater Whole

The Ella’s Kitchen suggestion box is simply a box where everyone is encouraged to keep contributing ideas. Suggestions are regularly acted up and have included:

  • Putting the Facebook page and Twitter feed on the screen by the coffee machine so that employees can see what retail customers and consumers are saying about the company
  • What kind of coffee machine the company should buy
  • Where people should sit in the office to create more effective working relationships

Although individually the suggestions are small, they demonstrate to employees that they are listened to.

Living the Ella’s Kitchen Values and Encouraging Employee Innovation:

  1. Beginning the Ella’s journey – We aim to give prospective team members a taste of the Ella’s experience throughout the recruitment phase focussing as much on their Ella’s fit and their ability to Think Differently (one of our values) as on their technical skills. On joining, everyone gets a ‘head in the clouds, foot on the ground’ pamphlet, which sets out company values and how they are incorporated into the culture. The induction process involves talking through the values and explaining how they are executed into roles and the individual performance review. Managers mentor new hires for the first three months to help them embody live the values in their work. After three months, new hires are asked to complete an assessment that asks whether they feel that employees do embody the values in their work.
  2. Ella’s Thinking Day – do whatever you like but try and use the day to think about something in the business that you never have time to think about.
  3. Strawberry Stock – share options granted on the basis of loyalty. Although for many the actual financial rewards may be small, the sense of real ownership and recognition is huge.
  4. Give it a Go programme – once a year everyone is encouraged to do something they have never done and the company will pay for it. The only requirement is that the individual talks about what they did at the monthly ‘Tea at Two’ team meeting. ‘Tea at Two’ meetings take place every month with all employees attending. They are a forum for Paul and his senior team to share information (good and bad) on what’s happening in the business and what is upcoming. The idea is to inspire and motivate everyone with an open, inclusive dialogue and ‘warts and all’ communication.
  5. Ella’s Classroom – internal classes where employees share knowledge with each other in a classroom environment e.g. from how to use software programmes to negotiation skills, from presentation skills to effective time management, from understanding Ella’s brand and values to understanding consumers and the value of brands. Classes take place during work time.
  6. Confidential Company Wide Interview Process – every 18 months everyone honestly (and anonymously) speaks about what it really feels like to work at Ella’s, where the culture delivers and where it doesn’t. Paul and his team endeavour to fix what doesn’t work by involving employees in developing solutions and implementing them.

Winning Awards

Ella’s Kitchen has won numerous awards, including: being ranked in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list in 2011, 2010 and 2009, winning Grocery brand of the year in the UK and in Sweden, Paul was Entrepreneur of the Year at the National Business Awards in 2011.

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